From time to time I am asked what the biggest problem in our schools is. Bullying, including cyber bullying, qualifies as one of the most reported issues.
Bullying is defined as aggressive behavior with intent to cause harm or distress that is repeated over time, and usually occurs where there is an imbalance of power or strength in the relationship. Cyber bullying falls under one of the indirect bullying categories as it lacks direct contact between the individuals. It is bullying through the electronic media, be it Internet chat, texting, instant message, etc. Many young people today are connected to the Internet almost 24/7 and being part of this connection is very important to them. Unlike the “traditional” school bully, cyber bullying usually takes place away from school. The overwhelming number of reported cases occurs outside of school. Incidents reportedly occurring during the school day almost always involve a student’s personal equipment. Victims of cyber bullying feel they can’t escape and simply staying away from the media is not viewed as an option.
Having an environment free of physical and emotional harm is one characteristic of a safe school. Bullying of any kind interferes with a student’s education. Cyber bullying sometimes borders on threats or criminality, as in sexting, which is a crime in Indiana. Often there may be credible evidence of a threat, but not evidence of a credible threat. In such cases a threat assessment is also conducted. We work closely with area law enforcement agencies and the Juvenile Probation Department when the case merits it.
What can we do to fight cyber bullying? This is where parent and school cooperation is very important. We respond and investigate all reported incidents. What then? Schools have to be very careful. If cyber bullying is documented, a substantial disruption to the educational process also must exist in order for school officials to impose any sanctions. One thought is that schools should educate rather than sanction in all cases. The thought being that correcting and ceasing the behavior is the ultimate goal. If the offenders are taught to understand their wrongdoing, they will stop for good.
A strong effort is made in all our schools to educate all students, beginning at an early age, about all forms of bullying. It is also important for parents to educate themselves and their children about this issue. Our guidance counselors have resource information for parents if needed. Nationally, reports of cyber bullying spike around sixth grade and continue into high school.
Parents should take an active role by monitoring their child’s electronic communications. Responsible use of electronic media must also be taught. If your child abuses the media, take away the device(s) for a time as part of their education. Parents need to talk with one another and present a united front to students and say, “We won’t tolerate this.” We must continue to work together to teach our children responsible use of electronic media.
This column solely represents the writer's opinion.